As the Covid-19 pandemic grew in the United States, hospital systems scrambled to accept the massive influx of patients and create some semblance of protocols to treat these infectious patients. Due to the huge demand for intensive care of very sick patients, many clinicians were re-allocated to areas outside of their expertise. Many of my otolaryngology residents, with their expertise in airway management, were asked to cover the ICUs at the hospital. Other colleagues in pulmonology, cardiology, and gastroenterology were also re-assigned to ICUs given their background in internal medicine. New York state started graduating medical students early, a scenario otherwise unheard of, to just have more medical professionals on the front lines. Institutions also rapidly created makeshift boot camps for the re-allocated and re-assigned clinicians to give them a crash course on how to deliver ICU-level care under the direction of true intensivists.
This was a scary time that rocked the core of everyone’s self-efficacy and confidence in their ability to care for patients, a feeling many haven’t had since early in their medical training. The medical world was hungry for information and scrambling to figure out how to rapidly upskill practicing clinicians and cover the massive learning losses of trainees who were losing out on vital experiential learning all while in-person training and simulation centers were closed.
Before the pandemic, many medical students and residents turned to simulation centers to supplement their training, especially when rotations and other opportunities for in-person training were limited. Healthcare professionals, particularly those early in their careers, use these centers to practice challenging cases and build confidence in their cognitive and psychomotor skills without ever touching a patient. With over 600 accredited simulation centers in the U.S., these facilities are an integral aspect of medical education. However, when many of these centers, along with residency and other in-person opportunities, limited operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, students and faculty alike were left without effective and accessible methods of experiential training.
The fallback plan for supplementary medical education doesn’t have to be lectures over teleconferencing platforms, 2D animations, and walk-through videos. There is a better way, and it’s already available on smartphones, laptops, and other portable devices. Software-based interactive training is one of the most convenient, effective, and engaging options for a digitally-savvy generation. Instead of watching a video walking through an intubation procedure, for example, a physician can simulate it on their phone, familiarizing themselves with the tools and operations in a more interactive way. Elsewhere, an aspiring pulmonologist can spend their daily commute playing a mobile game that mimics a challenging bronchoscopy, preparing them for unforeseen cases.
Not only is this method more convenient, but it’s highly effective.
This hybrid model, marrying occasional synchronous training with digital methods, can train high-order thinking skills like judgment, situational analysis, medical decision making, and motor planning in concert with psychomotor skill development.
With mobile, software-based simulators like video games, physicians can become proficient in the cognitive aspect of their careers before they ever enter a physical facility. Granted, mobile options may not train some of the mechanical and haptic skills that in-person training does, but HCPs can still engage with all of the aspects of a procedure other than the purely mechanical. Unlike watching lectures or videos, this type of interactive cognitive training encourages players to problem solve and explore new solutions, ultimately stimulating deeper learning.
Beyond core cognitive skills, mobile games can also teach soft skills like leadership, effective communication, and even empathy. In the healthcare sphere specifically, Dr. Pablo Buitron de la Vega, general internist and associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, developed a virtual poverty simulator game that, when deployed, has the potential to impart knowledge about social determinants of health (SDOH). While other such simulations exist, the realism and interactivity of Dr. Buitron de la Vega’s platform leverage experiential learning, ensuring the students retain the information with greater depth.
This asynchronous training doesn’t necessarily have to be an individual task, either. The gaming industry has employed cloud-based collaboration for years, allowing players to connect regardless of their physical location. Leveraging this technology for medical training can reimagine peer-to-peer training for the modern physician. There’s even a future in more user-generated content as doctors-turned-gamers create their challenges.
Even as medical rotations return to normal attendance and simulation centers keep their doors open, this appetite for self-guided training will not go away. The Covid-19 pandemic merely accelerated this transformation toward asynchronous, remote learning. To keep up with the pace of innovation in the industry, these learners also need faculty members that know how to engage students in digital education.
For example, we began using these brand new technologies in our hospital to provide tele-simulation and virtual lectures to fill the gap. These modalities superseded recorded lectures and videos and, instead, provided education in real time thousands of miles away. Game-based learning brought new solutions to the armamentarium of educators, ensuring attendees from multiple sites and even continents could engage in the same interactive experiences.
Mobile training is more than a cool new way to train and engage in peer-to-peer collaboration. This expansion of asynchronous training isn’t merely a prediction — it’s an evolution currently underway in the healthcare field beyond just medical students, residents, and their faculty. Practicing physicians, nurses, EMTs, and other healthcare professionals are also seeking more interactivity and flexibility in their medical training, bringing about a change that will outlast the pandemic.
It’s time for the healthcare industry to invest more in these software-based solutions, providing healthcare professionals with the resources they need to thrive in an increasingly digitized field. Otherwise, these professionals will be behind the curve of medical advances, playing catch-up with their future-minded peers.
Photo: Asawin_Klabma, Getty Images